Why it is avoidable, by Isa Aremu
TUC awaits govt action on proposals
If the strike should happen, it will be counter-productive for both employers and workers —NECA
The government has not done anything to suggest that it was committed to its promises. Our plans remain on course …. —NLC
The proposed strike by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) will be counter-productive if it goes ahead, private employers of labour cautioned yesterday.
According to them, the NLC should seek better opportunities for its members to cushion subsidy removal pain through dialogue with the government.
Early in the month, NLC President Joe Ajaero called out workers on a two-day warning strike, but it attracted mixed compliance on September 5 and 6.
Announcing the warning strike, Ajaero, who shunned a meeting called by Labour Minister Simon Lalong, said a “total shut down of the economy” would follow in 14 days unless the government reversed the pump price of petrol to pre-May 29, among other reasons.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) which declined to join the NLC for the warning strike opted for a dialogue with the government within two weeks.
In a September 8 letter to the government, the TUC said it is expecting a response from the government on its proposals.
The NLC has, however, opted to go ahead with its plan to mobilise workers for an indefinite strike.
But, a former Vice President of the NLC Comrade Issa Aremu said the industrial action is preventable.
Aremu, who is Director General of Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS) said: “Strikes are just the means not to an end. The end is improved welfare for working men and women at this challenging times.
“I know that President Tinubu is concerned about the plight of all. His quotable quote is ‘let’s the poor breath.’
Aremu said Lalong has demonstrated commitment to dialogue with NLC and TUC.
He stressed: “Strikes are therefore, preventable. I think both government and organised labor will soon find a common ground.
“Strike is certainly not inevitable, indeed it is preventable but rewarding negotiations and compromises by the two parties.”
The Director-General of the Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Mr. Adewale-Smart Oyerinde, who featured on a Television programme last night, said the proposed strike will be counter-productive, adding that it will hurt employers and employees.
The NECA boss, who applauded the Federal Government for the steps taken so far, however, said there was need for the government to do more.
He said: “The approval of N5billion to each state is a step, because if the money is well spent in a state economy, it will trigger some level of consumption, which will also go back into production.
“We are also aware that the government is sharing rice. But, these efforts are not enough.”
Oyerinde said the strike will not in any way address the challenges confronting employers, employees the generality of Nigerians.
In his view, it is possible for parties in the dispute to renegotiate already agreed terms.
Oyerinde added: “Our position remains the same on the issue. And that is, if you negotiate, courtesy demands that you live up to the terms of negotiation.
“But, if anything arises that makes it difficult to live up to the terms of the negotiation, there is opportunity to renegotiate the terms that have been agreed upon, if you don’t have the capacity to implement.”
The DG said going on strike will distress stakeholders.
He stressed: “For us as employers, though we are paying beyond the minimum wage and we have also gone to provide succour, palliatives, welfare packages to make life easier for employees in the private sector, notwithstanding the fact that employers are currently bleeding and facing multi-dimensional challenges.
“But, we have done well, as the President had also commended the employers in his August broadcast. A strike at this point will do two or three things.
”One, it will hinder the ability of the employers to meet their obligations and this will affect, not only the public sector, but even the workers.
“When you go on strike, it will put the employers in double jeopardy, especially when we are not the protagonist and antagonists. And that remains our position.”
Oyerinde urged the government to do everything possible to avert the industrial crisis.
He said: “We are calling on the government to do all that is necessary to avoid the strike.
“But if the strike should happen, it will be counter-productive for both employers and the workers.”
Oyerinde said government should look at the payment of multiple taxes, VAT on diesel and petrol, creation of an enabling environment, and the forex challenge.
NLC Head of Information Benson Upah said the planned nationwide strike by the NLC was on track.
But the Director of Press and Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Labour, Olajide Oshundun, said the ministry was yet to receive any notice of strike from the NLC.
A member of the National Working Committee of the NLC said there was no need for a fresh notice as the communique issued at the end of the NEC meeting of the Congress on September 1, was enough for the government.
Upah said the government had “not done anything to suggest that it was committed to the promises it made.
”The government has not done anything which will suggest that it was committed to the promises it has made. Our plans remain on course unless something dramatic happens,” he added.
TUC awaits govt action on proposals
FEDERAL Government’s action on some of the proposals by the TUC to cushion the impacts of fuel subsidy removal is still being awaited, the union has said.
On September 4, Lalong asked for two weeks from the leadership of the TUC to communicate the proposals to President Tinubu and the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
The two-week window expires on Monday.
But international engagements in New Delhi, India and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) have kept the President busy since last week.
An official of the Labour and Employment Ministry told The Nation that Lalong has been unable to table the proposals by Labour before the appropriate authority.
It was further learnt that government representatives and Labour leaders have not met since the September 4 parley, which was shunned by the NLC.
The government called the meeting to avert the two-day warning strike called by the NLC.
The Federal Government promised to work on the TUC proposals.
The ministry official said: “No official discussion between government and Labour. But we are hoping that very soon the discussion will start again.
“You know the minister requested for two weeks for the President to come back. The minister will take the proposals by Labour to the President. There are demands on the president’s table.
“The president is already aware that there was a two-day warning strike by the NLC and there are discussions behind the scenes. I am sure the President will tell Nigerians what to expect.”
Some of the TUC proposals are the implementation of palliatives; wage awards; tax exemptions and allowances to public sector workers; modalities for the N70 billion for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs); the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) and Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers(NURTW) crisis, among others.
Osifo told The Nation that the congress was waiting for the outcome of the minister’s response.
The TUC letter dated September 8 reads: “I convey to you, compliments from the National Administrative Council (NAC) of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), especially the President, Comrade (Engr) Festus Osifo and wish to draw your attention to the above subject matter.
“This letter is a follow-up to the last meeting held in your office on the 2nd day of September 2023. You can recall that in the last meeting sir, we promised not to wait until the expiration of two weeks before reaching out but will bring any information that could further add value to your pending presentation before the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presentation.
“We equally raised the issues of Taxation and the need for the government to grant tax waivers to employees that earn low income in public and private sectors as well as those in the informal sector.
“We highlighted the need for effective collaboration with the minister of Finance and the coordinating minister for the economy who has made some comments around these in the past.
“It is critical to resolve this urgently as we also implore your Excellency to bring the attention of the Taiwo Oyedele-led committee on taxation and fiscal reforms recently set up by the President to this.
“Honorable minister sir, another critical issue that should be reviewed is the collection of levies in dollars on petroleum products imported into the country by NIMASA and NPA.
“This act tends to lead to a further upward surge in the prices of PMS whenever the naira depreciates against the dollar as recently noticed during the floating of the naira.
“We hereby call on your office to liaise further with the above-mentioned reform committee or bring this to the attention of the FEC which could compel the two agencies to immediately start charging their levies and taxes in dollars.
“While we await your intervention, please accept the renewed assurances of our regards.”